According to the Cattle Health Certification Standards around 51% of British dairy and beef herds are thought to be infected by neospora, with the annual cost per farm estimated at £3,000/year.
The disease, which usually comes from dog faeces, causes abortions and premature calving.
Parent stock can also transmit the disease to offspring, so it can sweep through the herd with catastrophic results.
Fi Boothby, veterinary surgeon at The Vale veterinary group, answers some questions about neospora.
What is neospora?
Neospora caninum is a protozoa carried by cattle, dogs and other canids – such as foxes – that can cause abortion in cattle.
How does it transmit to cattle and what are the symptoms?
There are two main methods of transmission. The infection can pass between an infected cow to her calf through vertical transmission or via horizontal transmission, which can happen if cattle eat the eggs produce by the parasite that are carried in dog or fox faeces – usually through feed or water sources.
Symptoms include abortion – usually five to seven months gestation, but can be as early as three months – still-births and premature calves.
Can you treat it?
There is no treatment for neospora.
What can you do to minimise the risk?
The first way farmers can minimise the risk is by reducing the chance of the infection coming in. Encourage dog walkers to pick up faeces if you can’t stop dogs coming in, and don’t put dry cows in fields with footpaths.
Keep calving areas clean and dispose of placenta and abortion material as this can carry the infection. It is also a good idea to put feeders above ground level.
Stopping vertical transmission by not keeping daughters as breeding replacements can also minimise the risk of transmission.
Can you vaccinate your herd against the infection?
The is no commercial vaccine in the UK.
What is the best way to test for neospora?
To ensure you have the best chance of identifying positive cattle, farmers need to blood test 12-14 weeks before calving or just after they have aborted. Testing in the correct window is crucial.
It is really important to test for neospora to identify which cows are positive in your herd, however, it is not a simple test – so it is worth speaking to your vet for further information.